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Gender Stratification

Gender Socialization and Gender Identity

Gender Socialization

Gender socialization refers to the ways individuals learn gender roles from agents of socialization, such as family, school, and the media.

Socialization is a process through which people absorb the norms, beliefs, values, and behaviors of a social group. A group can be a whole society or a smaller community within a society. Gender socialization is the process of acquiring the norms, beliefs, values, and behaviors associated with masculinity and femininity in a particular society or smaller social group. It is based on a person's sex at birth. Gender socialization means that male children are raised to conform to masculine gender roles and female children are raised to conform to feminine gender roles. Boys and girls are taught, explicitly and implicitly, the norms, beliefs, values, and behaviors that will make them masculine and feminine, securing their place as part of either group.

Gender norms and roles are learned and reinforced throughout childhood. People learn what is expected of their gender from many sources, or agents of socialization. An agent of socialization is a person, institution, or group that contributes to the formal and informal socialization of a person, such as parents and family, school, peers, media, religion, cultural beliefs and traditions, or other social institution. Various agents of socialization create, teach, and reinforce gender norms and gender roles. Agents of socialization communicate a society's expectations and norms around gender, echoing the norms, beliefs, values, and behaviors that are expected of each gender by society. Even before birth, individuals are socialized by family and friends based on their biological sex and assumed gender. For example, when expectant parents share news of a pregnancy, often one of the first questions people ask is the sex of the child. In many Western cultures, it is common for blue items, trucks, and animals to be chosen as gifts for a baby boy and for pink items, dolls, and flowers to be chosen for baby girls. This is the start of gender socialization, a process that continues throughout life.

The Social Construction of Gender

Norms shift as societies change. As technology, work norms for women, class markers, and marketing practices have changed, associations between colors and gender have also changed.
Children internalize messages about gender and adopt socially defined masculine or feminine roles. For example, in many societies boys are often encouraged to exhibit characteristics such as independence and aggressiveness. They are socially rewarded for being active or physically strong. They are encouraged to play with cars and building toys and to join athletic teams. Girls are encouraged to exhibit characteristics such as cooperation and submissiveness. They are socially rewarded for caring or having empathy, and for being "cute" or "pretty." They are encouraged to play with dolls and to dress up. In English-speaking societies, the phrase "boys will be boys" expresses the concept that certain behaviors are expected of boys. This type of language is an indication of the cultural scripts prescribed by society for boys and girls, as well as the expectation that individuals adhere to the gender roles for their sex. Although some children are encouraged or allowed to adopt characteristics and behavior associated with the opposite gender, they still receive the overriding social messages about masculinity and femininity. For example, some boys are encouraged to be cooperative and some girls are encouraged to play sports, but these children still observe and receive the larger social messages about what is most expected of each gender. As children grow up and progress through school, they continue to absorb messages about acceptable and expected behaviors for each gender. Individual children either adopt these behaviors or question their placement into their gender category and react against it.

Gender Identity

Gender identity is an individual's self-definition or sense of gender; it does not necessarily match gender expression.

Gender identity is the internal sense of oneself as male, female, both, neither, or something else. Gender identity is a personal choice, chosen internally by an individual. Gender expression is the external manifestation of an individual's gender identity. Also called gender manifestation, gender expression is usually expressed through behavior, clothing and hairstyle choices, spoken voice, or body characteristics. People's gender identity does not always match their gender expression. Heteronormativity is the assumption that all people are heterosexual, or that heterosexuality is the default or normal state of human being. It includes the expectation that biological sex, gender, and gender expression always align. For example, a heteronormative expectation is that individuals with male sex characteristics also identify as male (their gender identity is male).

Behaviors that are compatible with societal expectations about gender are referred to as gender normative. Aligning oneself with society's view of gender is called gender conformity. Behaving in ways that are incompatible with societal expectations about gender is referred to as gender nonconformity. The adjective cisgender describes an individual whose gender identity aligns with the sex assigned to them at birth. The adjective transgender describes a person whose gender identity does not align with the sex assigned at birth. Transgender people might identify as either male or female, neither, or something else. Sexual orientation refers to whether individuals are sexually attracted to people of the same sex (homosexual), people of the opposite sex (heterosexual), or both (bisexual). Sexual orientation, gender identity, and gender expression are each distinct concepts. Both cisgender and transgender people may be heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, or asexual (without sexual desire). The acronym LGBTQIA, or lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual, is an umbrella term that refers to the diverse community of people who do not identify as heterosexual and cisgender.